Manager makes plea for parking solution

Should people be able to park all day in front of downtown businesses?

That’s a question that downtown merchant Kelly Guptil and chamber president Scott Berry brought before the Princeton City Council on Thursday, March 7. Guptil and Berry pleaded with the city to do something about all-day parking.

Guptil suggested the city have a two-hour parking limit in at least a two-block area of the downtown. Berry backed the suggestion, saying that without some parking regulation, there would be “no repercussion” when merchants like Guptil see parking abuses. Guptil is the manager of Ossell’s and owns Louise’s Basement, located in the basement level of the Ossell’s building.

Guptil said some apartment tenants could be part of the problem, but some downtown business owners are parking in front of other stores all day.

Berry agreed. The two both said that a number of those who have been parking that way have been talked to, but with little or no change. Guptil said that some people are not stopping at her store if they don’t see a nearby place to park.

The city has to do something to keep the downtown vibrant, said Berry, who has a law office just south of Bremer Bank on the south end of downtown.

Council member Dick Dobson, after listening to the discussion for about a half hour, said the message he was hearing was that whatever measure is taken “it has to be city backed.”

Other council members, including Mayor Paul Whitcomb, and City Administrator Mark Karnowski, Community Development Director Carie Fuhrman and Police Chief Brian Payne, said this: Other measures would be more practical and should be tried first before looking to the city to remedy the problem.

Guptil, about midway into the discussion, said she was not looking for a blanket regulation from the city about parking times. She instead said she wanted some “resource” so that if a merchant noticed someone’s vehicle parked in front of a business all day, they could call the police department to have something done about it.

Guptil talked about many downtown merchants having signed onto the need for something to be done. She also said that some of the replies she has gotten when she has suggested someone not park in a particular spot for the day, include that it is their right or that it’s a public spot. Payne suggested that all the Princeton merchants get together and agree not to “slit each other’s throat” in regard to parking. If all the merchants except one agree to the plan, then it isn’t going to work, he said.

Council member Jules Zimmer, a retired police chief and sheriff, mentioned that it isn’t just business owners who park for long periods in front of downtown stores. There are also cars parked all afternoon with garage sale or campaign signs, he said.

Council member Victoria Hallin said she would not want to see a two-hour parking time as that wouldn’t be practical for a lot of shoppers. She said lightheartedly that it takes her about two hours to find the right kind of pants to buy and that after going to one store she may stop in other nearby stores.

Fuhrman said it is human nature that people will park in the parking lot of a big chain store or mall and walk a block, but when they are in a downtown, they want to park in front of their destination.

Whitcomb urged Guptil, Berry and other merchants to meet and work something out on parking.

Whitcomb recalled Princeton having a parking time limit in the downtown sometime in the 1960s. Later, when the person who chalked the tires on parked cars could no longer do the job, the timed parking ended, he said.

City Administrator Karnowski said he has seen from his experience with other cities dealing with parking issues that some have thrown a lot of money at the problem and didn’t fix it. Karnowski offered to check with the League of Minnesota Cities research staff to see if he can find some unique approaches to downtown parking.

Guptil was clearly upset about the parking issue, telling the council that her parents did not want her to come down to city hall and raise a fuss about the situation, but she was there nonetheless.

Walker suggested that a sign could be placed to remind those going downtown about the public parking lot away from the main street. Guptil replied that she would then like to see customers-only parking signs in the main part of the downtown. If people are told to do something, they are more apt to do it and that would deter parking abuses. The she added: “and pardon my French, you’d look like an asshole if you parked there (in front of a business) day in and day out.”

Dealing with the issue “has to start from the top, down” in telling people where to park, Payne said about the businesses. “Everyone in the downtown needs to be involved.”